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I live in western Germany and have started to ride to work almost everyday. It is great at the moment as it is summer (not as dry as I hoped for, but that is another story). So the only thing I have to really deal with is rain and, sometimes, cooler weather.

In the winter, it sometimes snow, and will definitely have ice on the roads and trails that I ride. What can I do to prepare my bike and my clothing for riding in the winter time? I am even considering getting a new bike as my current bike is quite worn and needs to be updated.

I know that this is quite broad, but I hope to create a list of things (or community wiki) to do for preparing for the winter time.

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Related: How do I gear up a bike for winter riding? –  Neil Fein Jul 27 '11 at 20:15
    
In the rain/cold I use a ski helmet. Not cheap but look at POC. –  Blam Jun 4 at 19:01
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8 Answers

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Studded tires are a must on ice. They are expensive, but well worth it! A couple of points to consider that have not been mentioned:

Footwear: Winter specific riding shoes or boots. For mountain biking and cross, I ride with Lake boots. On the road, I use an older pair of road shoes that have been stretched to accommodate thick wool socks and neoprene shoe covers.

Head-wear: I typically ride with a helmet cover all winter. I also bring along a couple different varieties of skull caps on ride ranging in thickness, ear/face coverage etc... yes to balaclavas!!!

Depth of snow: whether you are running studs or not, my experience is that if the snow is deeper than 4-5 inches, it is not ride-able. In this case, it is best to wait until either the cross country skiers, hikers or plows(in the case of roads) have cleared or packed down the snow.

Body Temperature: Many cyclists new to riding in colder weather tend to over dress. The trick that works for me is twofold, first absolutely dress in layers and second I want to be cold, not freezing, but cold as I go outside and get my bike ready or at the very start of the ride. If I am warm at that point, I will be sweat soaked in the matter of minutes and wetness is something you want avoid!

Fender: Clearly, if the snow is dry, it is not necessary, but my experience is it is better to have one as a precaution than go without!

Heat Packs: At extreme temperatures, I have successfully used heat packs in the tips of my shoes and palms of my gloves. I am not a huge fan of use in the palms, I very rarely and if i do it is usually just a temporary fix.

Use of Car Heater: If I am driving to the ride, I preheat my shoes and as much clothing as possible using my car heater on the way to the ride.

If you get yourself set up with studs, I would highly recommend finding a frozen lake or pond to ride on! The experience is phenomenal! If you can time the lake ride with 1-2 inches of fresh snow it will be that much better!

I ride road, mountain and cross year round outside. Hope this helps!

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Excellent advice. I haven't thought about the heat packs, but great idea. I also agree about the body temperature and sweat. Exposing wet (skin or material) is something I am going avoid. –  tehnyit Jul 27 '11 at 20:10
    
+1 for the helmet cover. You need some sort of head covering besides just your helmet, or your ears will freeze off. It can be a helmet cover, a skullcap, a helmet liner, or a balaclava. (I prefer the helmet liner.) –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 28 '11 at 3:04
    
Yep, I've also used the heat packs in my shoes, in the toe area. Especially useful when using old-style toe clips, since the toes tend to lose circulation in them. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 28 '11 at 3:06
    
I bought hunting boots from Canadian Tire, and they are rated good down to -70C, and they are VERY comfy to ride in, all winter long in Toronto. Once you have warm feet the rest is easy. Windproof is mandatory, water proof is nicer. –  geoffc Jul 28 '11 at 18:55
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You could add protective glasses to the list, just to avoid visibility problems during snowfall. –  Shawn Sep 8 '11 at 19:01
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If you'll be riding on ice, you definitely need studded tires. For snow, you need wider tires than the typical road bike -- more of a mountain/hybrid tire, with a lugged design. How wide depends on how deep and soft the snow will be. Fenders are generally not a good idea since they'll tend to get clogged with snow.

For clothing you don't need anything super-special vs what you'd wear for that cold of a temp anyway -- your typical tight-fitting cycling clothes will shed snow pretty well.

But if you're not familiar with riding in the cold, you need a "wind shell" that will prevent the wind from penetrating into your clothing and wrecking its insulating value. Some cold-weather wind shells are more wind-proof on the front than on the back, and this is a good thing, since it still lets your clothing "breathe" fairly well. What you wear under the shell depends on how cold it gets -- think layers. Avoid cotton -- look for wool or man-made materials designed to "wick" moisture, such as CoolMax. Just keep in mind that you will get warm quickly while cycling, and it's more of a challenge to stay cool (and not sweaty) rather than warm.

For your hands, it's a good idea to wear "glove liners" under your regular cycling gloves, then something like lightweight ski mitts over the cycling gloves in cold weather. (Glove liners are thin, tight-fitting gloves typically knit from blue/purple polypropylene.)

Lots of theories on feet. Simplest is probably a pair of neoprene rubber cycling booties. They can be cut to let "clipless" pedal cleats fit through, if you want to use those.

There's a web site -- http://icebike.org/ -- that has lots of good info on cold-weather cycling, even though it apparently hasn't been updated in 5 years.

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+1 for the icebike.org, fantastic resource for the newbies like me. –  tehnyit Jul 28 '11 at 6:59
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I tend to use my old beaten-up bikes to commute in winter time because I know the winter will destroy them anyways (the crud, the slush splashing, the salt, etc.) and I don't want to ruin my good summer bike.. This, combined with my tight financial situation, makes for unsafe rides most of the time (failing brakes, no gears and other weird stuff), ESPECIALLY considering what else is going on in the streets in Montreal (cars, trucks, hidden potholes, ice patches, etc). That being said, while a good bike and good clothing will certainly help (other answers take care of these pretty well), I think it's just as important to prepare yourself. Here is the advice I usually give "winter-beginners":

  • Be visible. Visibility is a big problem in winter time because of shorter days and snowfall. Have reflectors on your bike and clothing and use lights at night.
  • Be predictable. Response-times are much slower in winter for many reasons (the cold, the grief, the snow, the ice). Follow straight lines, signal before turning, look drivers in the eye to make sure they saw you.
  • Slow down. You just can't rely on your brakes in winter, nor on those of the people you meet (cars, bikes, trucks, etc.)
  • Learn how to stop when your breaks fail. I always suggest practicing getting off the bike on the side while rolling. It's an easy skill to develop and I've used it so many times to save my life when my brakes just didn't cut it on an icy surface. The trick is that even if you know how to get off your bike quickly, you have to think of it when the crucial time comes. It's like hurting you elbow when falling down because you had a pillow in your hand. You could have dropped the pillow and fallen on your hand, but you didn't think of it and fell on your elbow instead.
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I find that my tires (Continental Contact, 700x32, with a tread but no knobs) commute well on rain and surprisingly even on snow or slush; but not on ice: not at all.

To ride on ice, you can get special studded tires (which people say work quite well but which I haven't tried).

Winter clothing is relatively easy because it doesn't rain in winter (it snows), so you don't get very wet (with a water-resistant jacket, snow will brush off).

You need two things:

  • A lighter jacket than usual (you get hot when you ride a bike; so I wear a quilted jacket, which isn't as warm as my real winter coat which is made with duvet/feathers).

  • Extra gloves (I use regular, bare-fingered cycling gloves usually; but in winter I keep ski mittens in my pannier).

I'll also switch back to using a wet lube for the chain instead of a dry lube.

And having an aluminium bike makes me less nervous than having steel, because here they salt the roads in winter and with aluminium I don't need to worry so much about corrosion.

Disc brakes: more reliable than rim brakes, especially when it's wet (which is useful when you're commuting in traffic, or going down-hill).

Further details of my clothing for commuting in this answer.

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Studded tires in a reasonable width work very well. Pretty easy to make a quality set yourself as well. –  zenbike Jul 27 '11 at 18:10
    
+1 for extra gloves. Thanks for the advice. –  tehnyit Jul 28 '11 at 7:02
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Against the rules, but I couldn't resist:

enter image description here

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In addition to all other excellent advices, I would add suggestion that prior to drive you properly warm up, especially your back. If you are not experienced when your bike starts to slip or bounce (which will happen), your body will react with very fast torso movements while trying to keep balance. If you are not warmed up, this could hurt you.

I have also collected some driving tips for first timers

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Two additional tips: in the winter, I switch to a snowboarding helmet, which is designed to be warmer, and has ear flaps. I also add goggles (in addition to a balaclava) to shield my eyes. And when it's cold but not snowing, I prefer to not use a shell -- it makes it easier to stay warm but also dry if I'm well-insulated but the air still penetrates.

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Disconnect your front brake. Seriously. There's no point running one in the snow and ice, and if you reach for it instinctively you'll go down!

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